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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Using Today's Technology Tools to Study Yesterday's

A fifth-grade field trip from Ferryway School, near Boston, to the nation's oldest ironworks is captured with the latest tech. Read the article.
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Teacher: So, welcome to the Saugus Ironworks National Historic site.

Narrator: It's a big day for the fifth grade at Ferryway School just outside Boston.

Teacher: What's this simple machine right here? Wheel and axle, right.

Narrator: This field trip is the highlight of a six-week project that integrates science…

Teacher: This works like a lever that presses the bellows closed, blows the air into the furnace.

Narrator: …math, art, English…

Teacher: So this is America's first rolling and slitting mills.

Narrator: …and history.

Teacher: There we go. My metal's hot enough. This is called a hearty. What kind of simple machine is this?

Class: Wedge.

Teacher: Wedge.

Narrator: Students use the latest technology tools to study the country's earliest innovations.

Teacher: And how's that? A good-looking nail?

Class: Yeah.

Teacher: You guys are too easy to please.

Narrator: To earn the right to go on the field trip, students spend weeks accomplishing various tasks to get their passport stamped.

Margie: All of those stamps are based on our state standards, from writing assignments to design assignments. And, as they finish the assignment, the passport is stamped.

Narrator: All of the assignments involve hands-on activities, from creating an outfit for a rock person…

Student: And it looks like shiny metal.

Narrator: …to studying rocks and minerals, which also involves Internet research.

Student: Chemical composition with an organized structure of a natural inorganic origin.

Narrator: Technology specialist Bob Simpson helped the team integrate technology on the project.

Bob: Well, the teachers have done all the really good research and constructed the structure of how the students are going to navigate through that unit, and ultimately what that does is it empowers the students to make decisions. So, when they're researching rocks and minerals, they get to pick which Web site they want to go to to select their rock or mineral.

So, go ahead and click on your Internet browser.

Narrator: Students also access the Web to study the history of the ironworks. The Saugus unit site also features a parent page that is translated into several languages.

Student: It's over here in the X.

Tom: We've had about 75 different languages spoken in this community, so you can imagine what that brings to the table every day, but this kind of cooperative work environment, teachers and students, supersedes that, and working with the computer, working with a partner, going on the field trip, those things are the intangibles that bring this whole project to life and can reach kids that you may never be able to reach in other ways.

Student: This is a picture and right here is a caption.

Bob: Your mission is to write a description caption for the pictures you took today.

Narrator: With digital cameras the school received as part of a technology grant, students add their field-trip photos to an ironworks wiki.

Bob: Let's get these pictures into your laptops, so connect your cable to your camera.

Margie: I've seen lots of intrinsic learning. I think the kids own what they've learned. They're very proud of their work. They can talk about their work, and they share much more.

Student: Do you like the other one too?

Student: Yeah.

Margie: They're learning through the technology definitely and with the technology, and they're able to sort of publish themselves at a level that we haven't been able to do before.

Student: Wait. What's that?

Student: I don't know. I think you took that.

Narrator: The integration of various subjects in one project also seems to work.

Anxhela: If you're in different classes, you sometimes forget, because your mind's on one class, and then you have to be focused on another class, but when it's all together you can just focus on one thing, because it's all the same.

Margie: The circumference of the circle, so when you measure around…

Narrator: The most exciting hands-on activity is a competition to build the most efficient Styrofoam water wheel.

Teacher: Sixteenth of an inch. I mean, we're talking maybe two millimeters.

Narrator: As part of a team of more than a dozen teachers and mentors on the project, Earl Fitzpatrick runs the school's tech lab.

Earl: The technology education lab is a place where the students can come into the room, actually physically construct a project. It gives them ownership. They built it. They'll test it, and in this case we'll have not only learned about the water wheel, but they learned about all the tools and machines that it takes to produce a working prototype, the steps in the design process and, whether it succeeds or fails, they can come back and rebuild it to make it a success.

Earl: And they can actually test it to see if it works and compare their work against other students. It's almost self-grading.

Two hundred and fifty grams plus one thousand grams.

There's no need to grade the project. I mean, you put it on the test stand and see how much it lifts, and the kids can know, "Hey, I made a good effort and my water wheel is efficient. I've achieved the goal."

Narrator: Whether they finish first or last, the teams are encouraged to learn from their efforts.

Andy: Looking at where the water's spilling out and how the wheel is operating right now, what might you change about it?

Student: Bigger cups.

Andy: Some bigger cups. So why would you add bigger cups?

Student: So there could be more water.

Narrator: Graduate engineering student Andy Mueller from nearby Tufts University guides them through the redesign process.

Andy: This is exactly what engineers do. You don't know how something is going to operate until you build it and test it until failure. Now we know that there's a lot of water spilling out the side of this. You might want to add…

You don't really know what you want to do. If you can see someone that's excited about anything, it helps the kids out to maybe say, "Well, if he is that excited about engineering," then get the kids excited about it, and maybe they'll want to go into engineering.

Teacher: Their water wheels seem far more advanced than the first year. Where did that come from? How did that…

Narrator: Redesign is also part of the process for the teaching team that created the ironworks project in 2002.

Earl: We had time in the shop. Then the two fifth-grade science teachers were very flexible, I mean, to the point where we were on the phone up- and downstairs shuttling students up and down so that they could re-glue. They had time to decorate. They had time to make last-minute adjustments, things that we didn't have before. It adds a component. That technology component makes a big difference.

Narrator: Buoyed by the success of the ironworks project, the team tackled another project.

Paul: So, today we're going to look at pictures of animals and we're going to make predictions about the biomes that they live in based on all the work that you've done to date.

Narrator: As part of a second-year HP technology grant, the fifth-grade team mentored fourth-grade teachers in developing the biome unit.

Paul: And then you ask the question, so it's three different ways.

Teacher: You're going to bring me at least up to here?

Paul: Yeah.

Narrator: The project started with a Web quest, which led to students designing PowerPoint presentations of a particular biome.

Paul: All right. Take a look. Slide looks really good. Climagraph looks good.

Narrator: Information for the PowerPoint presentations came from Internet research.

Sara: Who can tell me what a herbivore is?

It's just been a totally wonderful experience. They actually are looking forward to something for a change. I think it's just hands-on and they don't have to listen to my voice droning on and on and they're discovering things on their own. It's just amazing, some of the questions that have come up from their own discoveries instead of me feeding all the information to them. I think that's the biggest piece.

Teacher: It's related to the wolverines, minx and weasels.

Narrator: At the end of the unit, they were challenged to justify why a certain animal might live in a given biome.

Paul: So, using your remotes, make sure that you select a biome.

Narrator: And their answers were tabulated instantly with a student-response system.

Student: I chose the temperature of the deciduous forest, because there's lots of rodents there.

Paul: We wanted to keep that idea of inquiry-based, so it enabled the students to kind of start that type of learning, which is a stretch for a lot of kids, because they are used to: Open the book. Read the chapter. Answer the questions. This is different. It's not necessarily a matter of right or wrong. If you can justify it, if you can support your answer, then it's a valuable answer, and the students respond to that quite well and they remember what it is that they're learning.

Who chose the rainforest?

Student: I chose the rainforest because there are a lot of insects, and it eats insects, so it's one of its food sources.

Narrator: The biome and ironworks projects inspired both teachers and students, and their test scores rose well above other fifth-graders in the district.

Student: I took that picture.

Earl: There's a lot of life lessons to be learned by physical, hands-on projects, whether it be a science experiment, a tech-ed experiment. They learn leadership roles. They learn how to get along, how to cooperate, and it's good for everyone.

Teacher: Here we go.

Earl: Often you don't have the chance to show kids that education is real, that there is value to it, that it's out there, and they get a chance to put that all together. Once in a while, the magic happens, and it has happened the last couple of days and it's happened the last five years we've been doing this project.

Teacher: You're on the lift.

Narrator: For more information on What Works in Public Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Coordinating Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Production Intern:

  • Neil Tan

Camera Crew:

  • Rob Weller
  • Keith McManus
  • John O'Connor


  • Michael Pritchard

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas

Comments (66)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Joshua Phillips's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice educator, I am thrilled to see the hands on and technical learning of the students of Ferryway. With so many performance objectives required in the classroom today, integrating lessons in a variety of subjects is critical. This project had numerous positive elements such as a reward (the field trip) to create interest, development of technical skills, and learning how to use the internet for research. The skills learned through the project are all relevant to future success in the academic world as well as the work force. It is my hope to see more of this kind of activity in the classroom when I become a teacher.

Sonia Castro's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Coming from the perspective of a pre-service teacher, this whole concept of visualizing technology integration has forced me to think more deeply and put a new and truer value to education. Not only are my eyes opened, but also my mind has begun calculating and anticipating following in the footsteps of the pioneers from Ferryway School.

mike bender, phoenix's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher here at asu west. I watched the video and was in total awe the whole way through it. Teachers who don't use a textbook but the internet, no way! Assessment of students like they were on family fued with a hand held buzzer, thats just pushing the limits. Next thing you know they will be asked to bring their ipod to class with their homemade video on it of last nights homework. This is all a good thing and should be implemented asap, however we all know that it takes time and not every teacher will accept the change. This video gives me hope and i am truly excited about all of these new technologies that a teacher can adapt to a classroom setting. Outside the box thinking is the only way to keep the learning fun and not just pulling out our textbooks and turning to page who cares and doing the same thing as yesterday. I wonder what we will do tomorrow?!?

Kevin Castillo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service teacher at ASU West, and I am amazed how the students in this class were able to perform computerized tasks with ease. I know adults who have no idea how to turn on a computer, yet these students are able to integrate technology into their project in order to increase their learning. Technology integration in our classrooms will force students to think at higher levels, something that needs to happen in today's classrooms.

Amanda Baker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a "teacher in training" and I think this article is interesting because the students are able to learn something from the past and then use it in their classrooms today. The thinking process is amazing to watch. I truly believe in teamwork as well. The students are able to collaborate and learn a life-long lesson.

Melissa Hoffman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is such a delight to see so many students engaged in new technology! The hands on approach builds intrinsic motivation and a real feeling of accomplishment. The students worked wonderfully in groups, which is an important skill all on it's own. I was completely impressed by the Iron Work's Project. The students were developing skills in such a variety of subject areas. The video helped me to see the importance of technology in our classrooms. The student response system is a great way to keep students participating in class discussion. I am anxious to see these tools utilized in our schools everywhere!

Katie Adams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This video gives me hope that students wont dread the classroom as much! My favorite part of the clip was the students making and testing their own spinning wheels, to see the anticipation on their faces was amazing. In contrast, it was nice to see the students figuring out for themselves what they could have changed to make theirs more effective. It is amazing what these kids can learn when they really put their minds to work. A student can only sit and listen to a lecture for so long, but when they are able to use their favorite technology tools they become engaged in a way that no lecture can compare to. Also I heard a teacher in the video mention that they were well above the average grade for 5th graders and I don't doubt that, they all seemed eager to learn, I also like the boards where they could chose a, b, c, or d and it tells how many picked which answer, it reminded me of who wants to be a millionaire. If this technology had been available to me at that age I think I would have been more interested in learning. Great information!!

Erinn Holloway's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too am a pre-service student at ASU. Before the economic crunch, I was fortunate enough to homeschool my children. My methods of teaching were very similar to the methods that these teachers used. I stand firmly, that unit studies are a very effective way of teaching.
I often wonder who these so called curriculum specialists are for the districts. I am very dissappointed in the overuse of worksheets and boring often innacurate text books. No Columbus did not discover America. I hear from the teachers in my school that they often feel bogged down and burned out by the scripted curriculum. No wonder the kids are bored and misbehaved! I am actually concerned that I'm going to have to onform to the worksheet/lecture method of teaching! EEK!
It is interesting that the students of these pioneer teaching methods are scoring higher than kids who are forced to use the standardized curriculum. Maybe this should be taken in consideration before we teachers are forced to spend so much time dibeling are kids and teaching the tests.
Perhaps if we spent more time teaching
using innovative methods, our education system would not be in such trouble.

Leticia Velarde's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at ASU. Watching the video was inspiring about the possiblities that teachers working together can make. The teachers developed a dynamic learning experince working with technology and covering multi areas including English, science, math, history, and art. The students took away a larger understanding of problem solving, cooperative learning, and collabrative learning. The hands on learning reached a larger population than conventional text book studying. Using the internet and other resources, the students appeared to be fully engaged in the project. Not to mention the reward of going on the field trip to Iron Works as part of the completion of all the assignments the students work on is wonderful. This project is wonderful.

Leticia Velarde's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Watching the video was inspiring to see teacher work cooperatively in bring together this project. The idea of webbing the different subjects like English, math, science, history,and art under one project-amazining! This is such a wonderful project I hope in my future teaching, I am apart of such a dynamic program. The students appear to be fully engaged in the activity. The students walk away with a larger understanding of problem solving, cooperative learning, and collabrative learning. This is so exciting to see learning become alive and personal which these students will never forget.(At least I wouldn't if I had this opportunity in school as a child).

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